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Lessons from the changes in Twitter

Wednesday, May 13, 2009 by Dave Winer.

Interesting changes in the Twitter community in the last 24 hours. Permalink to this paragraph

Here's what happened, from my point of view. Permalink to this paragraph

1. At some point yesterday afteroon I logged on and saw a message on the Twitter home page advising of a change in the way Reply works. It pointed to the Twitter blog for more info. I clicked on the link, but there was nothing there about Reply. Refreshed the home page and the advisory was gone. I gather most people did not see the advisory. Permalink to this paragraph

2. Started seeing comments about the change.  Permalink to this paragraph

3. A blog post appeared, explaining in confusing terms what had changed. Permalink to this paragraph

4. Lots of theories.  Permalink to this paragraph

5. A reference back to a post by Evan Williams last year, wondering if they shouldn't change the way Reply works. Permalink to this paragraph

6. More discussion. Permalink to this paragraph

7. It turns out there are technical reasons for the change. We don't know what they are. Biz Stone is surprised at how much interest there is in the change.  Permalink to this paragraph

Now some comments... Permalink to this paragraph

I think the changes are okay, and I don't understand the technical reasons. I inferred that there must be a technical reason for the change, because it would have been simple enough to make it subject to a preference. As was pointed out many times on Twitter, it had been a preference. Therefore the inference. Permalink to this paragraph

When communicating with the community, the Twitter folk from now on should assume that every change will be examined in all possible nuance, with all theories explored, very quickly. Therefore, try to say what you know you're going to eventually admit to, as soon as possible. It will help build trust. Permalink to this paragraph

None of us outside the company have a clear picture of how the system works behind the user interface, esp since the performance issues were mostly resolved. Why is this feature so expensive? Unknown. Permalink to this paragraph

There will be many more problems like this in the future, some not so benign. The danger is that all the functionality of Twitter is centralized.  Permalink to this paragraph

The centralization problems are in three areas: 1. Technical. 2. Financial. 3. Political. Permalink to this paragraph

The technical issues are obvious. If there is no redundancy in their network and a critical component fails, the whole thing goes down. I don't think people really are prepared for how disconnected we all will feel if this happens.  Permalink to this paragraph

Assume that a change in ownership occurs at some point. What will the new owners change about Twitter. We have some feel for how the current ownership thinks. We obviously have no idea how a potential new owner thinks or what they might choose to sell. They could decide to sell information that we don't want sold. Permalink to this paragraph

The political threat is a major concern. Consider the pressure being applied to Craigslist over prostitution by the states attorney generals. What if prostitutes are operating on Twitter? What if a major act of terrorism is organized using Twitter? Would there be pressure to shut it down, or greatly control what it's used for? Remember the atmosphere after 9-11. Not so far-fetched. But it was hard to control the web, it was too diverse. Twitter, which is fully centralized, would be easy for a government to control. Permalink to this paragraph

Centralization has its niceties, for sure. They come up every time I warn of its dangers. This change was a very small reminder of what is, if you believe in Murphy's Law, as I do -- certainly in our future if we don't diversify. Permalink to this paragraph

Update: A smart look at this by Marshall Kirkpatrick at RWW. Permalink to this paragraph

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A picture named dave.jpgDave Winer, 54, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.

"The protoblogger." - NY Times.

"The father of modern-day content distribution." - PC World.

One of BusinessWeek's 25 Most Influential People on the Web.

"Helped popularize blogging, podcasting and RSS." - Time.

"The father of blogging and RSS." - BBC.

"RSS was born in 1997 out of the confluence of Dave Winer's 'Really Simple Syndication' technology, used to push out blog updates, and Netscape's 'Rich Site Summary', which allowed users to create custom Netscape home pages with regularly updated data flows." - Tim O'Reilly.


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